Candy cane tour gets folks in holiday spirit

Nelson's Columbia Candy Kitchen at Columbia State Park has candy cane making tours.
Nelson's Columbia Candy Kitchen at Columbia State Park has candy cane making tours. Modesto Bee - Debbie Noda

COLUMBIA -- With its rustic setting and historic buildings, downtown Columbia is a holiday hot spot in December. A chance to make your own candy cane makes the destination even more popular.

Every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Nelson's Columbia Candy Kitchen gives the public a close-up view of how candy canes are made and lets folks roll and shape their own peppermint treats.

Kiana Pisula joined her parents at the confectionery Saturday, oohing and aahing over the sweet smell of sugar and chocolate. Kiana said she likes the mint taste and had fun shaping her own corn syrup-and-sugar stick.

"I was really interested in learning the process, and I thought it was very interesting that they're using all the old equipment from the 1800s," said Kiana's mom, Kathy. It was the family's first candy cane making at the store.

The candy store has been around for 90 years, said third-generation owner Janice Nelson. The store is known for its handmade candy, from sweet and sour drops to chocolates to lollipops.

Nelson said the candy cane room still uses antique appliances and equipment, including the copper pots in which ingredients are melted and the mini-stove that warms the 35-pound piece of candy.

People love the behind-the-scenes glance into how the candy canes go from a mixture of corn syrup, cane sugar and water to a shiny white and red stick.

After the liquids are heated to 310 degrees, they're poured onto a steel table for cooling. Part of the sheet is dyed with red coloring. Once the golden section is cooled, it's placed on a wall-mounted taffy hook, where it's twisted into figure eights and a half-ounce of peppermint flavor is poured on.

As oxygen hits the candy, the gob turns from golden to white.

The white piece is kneaded into a loaf, with four red pieces placed on each side. The whole thing is then placed in a warming roller, cut into smaller pieces and given to participants to roll and shape however they want on a cool steel table. Most go for the tried and true cane shape, but others make hearts, numbers or letters. The tour lasts about 40 minutes.

Three-year-old Hailey Westall of San Francisco played with her piece with great-aunt Mary Medeiros.

"It was still kind of hot and she wasn't sure what to do about it," said Medeiros, a Sonora resident. "We made the J. She knows her letters a little bit, so it's a J to her."

Throughout 40 tours from Thanksgiving through Christmas, between 600 and 800 lucky people will be candy makers for the day. Many more will watch through windows on Columbia's Main Street.

Most visitors planned on eating their minty creations.

"I'll never look at a candy cane the same," Medeiros said. "It was amazing to see how they do it by hand. I'm sure the ones we buy in the store are not made with such tender-loving hands as this."